In the new millennium, what secrets lay beyond the far reaches of the universe? What mysteries belie the truths we once held to be self evident? The world of science fiction has long been a porthole into the realities of tomorrow, blurring the line between life and art. Now, inThe Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Eighth Annual Collection the very best SF authors explore ideas of a new world.
This venerable collection brings together award winning authors and masters of the field such as Robert Reed, Alastair Reynolds, Damien Broderick, Carrie Vaughn, Ian R. MacLeod and Cory Doctorow. And with an extensive recommended reading guide and a summation of the year in science fiction, this annual compilation has become the definitive must-read anthology for all science fiction fans and readers interested in breaking into the genre.
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St. Martin's Griffin
July 01, 2011
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Excerpt from The Year's Best Science Fiction by Gardner Dozois
A History of Terraforming
The sprawling, vividly imaginative story that follows traces the protagonist, Simon, from his childhood on a newly settled Mars hundreds of years into an increasingly strange future. Simon is an "atum," a terraformer, and each step in his career as he grows in knowledge and abilities showcases the strengths and weaknesses, the ethical as well as physical pros and cons, of terraforming, as the terraformers create new worlds--and sometimes destroy old ones as well.
Robert Reed sold his first story in 1986, and quickly established himself as one of the most prolific of today's writers, particularly at short fiction lengths, and has managed to keep up a very high standard of quality while being prolific, something that is not at all easy to do. Reed stories such as "Sister Alice," "Brother Perfect," "Decency," "Savior," "The Remoras," "Chrysalis," "Whiptail," "The Utility Man," "Marrow," "Birth Day," "Blind," "The Toad of Heaven," "Stride," "The Shape of Everything," "Guest of Honor," "Waging Good," and "Killing the Morrow," among at least a half-dozen others equally as strong, count as among some of the best short work produced by anyone in the eighties and nineties; many of his best stories have been assembled in the collections The Dragons of Springplace and The Cuckoo's Boys. He won the Hugo Award in 2007 for his novella "A Billion Eves." Nor is he nonprolific as a novelist, having turned out eleven novels since the end of the eighties, including The Leeshore, The Hormone Jungle, Black Milk, The Remarkables, Down the Bright Way, Beyond the Veil of Stars, An Exaltation of Larks, Beneath the Gated Sky, Marrow, Sister Alice, and The Well of Stars, as well as two chapbook novellas, Mere and Flavors of My Genius. His most recent book is a new novel, Eater-of-Bone. Reed lives with his family in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Simon's father started talking about nuts on walls, about how the seeds he was working with looked very much like wall nuts. Then he winked, handing over the wonder that he had been carrying in his big palm. "What do you think of this, Simon?" But before the boy could answer, his father cautioned him to use both hands and be especially careful. "Not because you might damage the seed," the man said. "Or because it would ever hurt you. But certain objects are important, sometimes even sacred, and they deserve all the consideration and respect that we can possibly show for them."
Considering how small it was, the seed was exceptionally heavy. It was black and hard as diamond but covered with small, sharp-edged pits. Against his bare palms, the object felt warm. Maybe the heat was leftover from where the seed was kept, or maybe it was warm in the same way that little boys were warm. Either answer might be true. He didn't ask. He just held the object in his cupped hands and stared, wondering what would happen if the impossible occurred, if the seed decided to awaken now.
For one person, time passed.
Then his father asked again, "What do you think, Simon?"
The boy's thoughts were shifting quickly, clinging to no single idea. He was telling himself that he wasn't even three-years-old. But on the earth he would already be four, and every four-year-old that he knew enjoyed large, impressive opinions. But if he lived near Neptune, he wouldn't be a month old and his father would never take him riding along on his working trips. And if this were Mercury, then Simon would be many years old, and because of certain pernicious misunderstandings about calendars and the passage of time, he believed that on Mercury he would be an adult. He was remembering how people said that he was going to grow up tall and handsome. It was as if adults had the power to peer into the future. They didn't admit to children that they had this talent, but the truth often leaked out in careless words and unwanted glimpses. Simon liked the idea of peering into the future. Right now, he was trying to imagine himself living in some important, unborn century. The nearly three-year-old boy wanted to be a grown man entrusted with some very important job. But for the time being, riding with his father seemed important enough. That's what he was thinking when he handed back that precious and very expensive seed, grinning as he said, "It's delicious, Dad." He had never been happier than he was just then.
"Do you know how it works?"
"Yes," the boy claimed.
"No, you don't," his father warned. "It's my job to find homes for these little buggers, and I barely understand them."
That admission of ignorance made a deep impression. Quietly, Simon asked, "What do floor nuts look like?"
Puzzled, his father blinked and said nothing.
Simon pointed at the seed. "I've never seen a wall look like that."
His father said, "Oh," and then softly laughed. "It's not two words. 'Walnut' is one word. It's the seed made by a species of earth tree."
"I know what trees are," the boy boasted.
"You've seen the pictures, at least." His father turned away, setting the heavy black wonder back into its important drawer. Then as he walked to the front of the rover, he added, "Here's something else to think about: One of my seeds is quite a bit more complicated than any unborn tree. There's more information packed inside that hull than normal DNA can hold. And considerably more power than roots and leaves would ever show on their own."
Simon walked behind his father, looking through the wide windows. Mars was rocky and pale red, last night's frost hiding in the coldest shade. The ground couldn't have been rougher, yet the rover walked without rocking or lurching or jumping. High clouds and at least three mirrors looked down on them from the purple sky, and the skyhook known as Promise was straight ahead. Today the wind was blowing, moving hard enough to throw the smallest bits of dust. Dust was dangerous. The cold was dangerous. Mars liked to kill people, particularly careless children who didn't listen to their fathers and other wise voices.
But the world wouldn't be dangerous much longer, Simon thought.
For a long while, they rode toward Promise, but the slender tower didn't come any closer. Then the AI driver took them around the flank of a low hill and over the lip of a worn-out crater, and suddenly they were looking into a wide basin filled with brilliant water ice.
"Is this the lake?" Simon asked.
His father was busy reading two different screens.
This must be their goal, the boy decided. But he thought it was best not to interrupt, his father busy with something that could only be important.
He sat on the nearest chair, watching everything.
The rover walked down to the shoreline. Out on the ice stood a little tower and another rover, and somebody was moving slowly in one direction, then another. The stranger was wearing a big lifesuit, the kind used by people planning to be outside for a long time. Someday Simon wouldn't need a suit to walk in the open. Adults promised that in the future, he would be a tall, good-looking man and wear nothing but clothes and good shoes, and Mars would be the second earth, but even better.
Simon would live for hundreds of years. Everybody said so. And that was even if he counted his birthdays in Martian years.
"This isn't right," his father muttered.
The boy stood up and eased close to his father.
With a sigh, the man said, "They shouldn't be here."
"Who shouldn't be?"
Father didn't answer. Opening a channel, he identified his employer before asking, "What's the hold up. You're supposed to be gone."
"Hey, John," said a woman's voice. "You're talking to Lilly."
Father's name was John. "No," he said quietly, but not softly. There was sharpness to that single tiny word. Then he sighed and reopened the channel, halfway smiling as he said, "I'm here with my son, Lilly."
She said nothing.
Simon touched his father's shoulder.
The man smiled at him and winked, and he was still smiling when he said, "I thought you went off on leave."
"Came back early," the woman said.
His father wasn't looking at either screen or what was ahead. He was still smiling, but something had changed about his face.
"How old is little Simon now?" the woman asked.
"Four." People born on the earth used their old calendar. That was one reason Simon had trouble understanding what time meant.
"Where's his mother?"
"Waiting at home. It's just him and me."
There was a brief silence. Then the woman said, "Understood."
Father sat back. "Lilly? I was told your rig was going to be gone by now."
"I've had some lousy troubles, John."
The man's face looked patient but not happy. "Troubles?"
"Two bits went bad on me. I've had one bit get contaminated at the site before, but never two."
Their rover was walking on its crab legs, quickly marching across the frozen face of the lake. Simon imagined liquid water hiding under the thick white surface ice, and he thought of the cold mud beneath the water. Then he remembered the guppies he left at home with his mother and baby sister. Someday he would take those fish and their babies and set them free. Wouldn't that be a wonderful thing? In his mind, he saw the ice turn to warm water and the sky was blue like on earth, and there were hundreds and millions of guppies swimming everywhere, all of their mouths begging for food.
"Are you close to finished?"
"Still drilling," the woman reported.
"How deep are you?"
"Five kilometers, nearly," she said.
His father mouthed one exceptionally bad word. Then with an angry tone, he said, "I'm sorry, Lilly."
"You can't wait one more day?"
"I've got my own schedule here."
The woman didn't respond.
After a minute, Father said, "I would, if I could. You know that. But they want me finishing this run in a week, and the kid has to get back."
Still, the woman didn't talk.
Father looked at Simon, preparing to tell him something.
But then Lilly's voice returned. "I just put in a call to the Zoo."
Father shook his head. Then softly and a little sadly, he said, "That won't do any good, and you know it."
"What are you talking about?" Simon asked.
Father closed the channel and said, "Shush," and then opened it again. "All right, Lilly. The Zoo can get their lawyers working. We're going to be official here. But why don't you start pulling your bit? If you win your delay, I'll let you put it back in and finish."
"So your boy's really there, is he?"
She asked, "Can he hear me?"
"Why?" Father asked, reaching for a button.
Then all of the sudden, she said, "Hello, Simon. Hi! I'm your dad's very, very good friend, Lilly!"
* * *
There were rules about being alone. Alone inside a rover meant touching nothing except what belonged to him and what couldn't be avoided. The AI driver watched Simon when his father was absent, and it watched his father when he worked outside. If something bad happened, the driver would find some way to help. But Mars was dangerous, and the worst things were always ready to happen. Before they left on this journey, Simon's mother said exactly that to his father. "A seal fails, or you puncture your suit," she said. Mom thought her boy was asleep, and even if he wasn't, Simon couldn't hear her talking at the far end of the tiny apartment. With a quiet urgent voice, she reminded her husband that one misstep might leave their son half-orphaned and two hundred kilometers from home. And what would happen then?
"The driver knows what to do," his father had promised. "It sends out a distress call and starts walking toward the nearest settlement."
"With Simon inside," she said. "Terrified, and all by himself."
"No need to mention I'm dead," said his father. "Though that seems like the larger tragedy, if you ask me."
"I don't want the boy scarred," she said.
Father didn't respond.
"Scarred," she repeated. And then again, she said, "Scarred."
Simon didn't want to be scarred, but he was definitely worried. His father walked slowly across the frozen landscape, wearing a lifesuit whiter than the ice beneath his boots. His clean-shaven head showed through the back of the helmet. His father's friend stood beside her drill rig. Lilly was watching Simon at the window. A pair of small robots stood nearby, doing nothing. The drill was still digging, the clean bit clawing its way into the deep warm rock. Simon watched the cable twisting, and then he noticed his father waving a hand, and Lilly smiled at her friend and said words. Father turned, and Simon could see his mouth now. The adults were sharing a private channel, and both were talking at the same time. Then they quit talking. Several minutes passed where nothing was said. It felt like forever. Maybe they were waiting for something to happen. Maybe what would happen was something very bad. Simon remembered the story of a Zoo collector who cut into a cave filled with methane and water, and the foamy gas blew out of the hole and picked up one of his robots and flung it at him, killing him with the impact.
Just then, with chilling clarity, Simon understood that his father was about to die. Straightening his back, he made himself ready for the moment. Yet nothing happened. Nothing changed. The two adults resumed talking and then stopped talking, and Simon was desperately bored. So he dropped into the chair reserved for him, playing a game. He was the blue team; his enemies were purple. He started in one corner of the board, feeding and dividing and then spreading, and when he nudged against the purple blobs, he fought for position and the chance to make more blues.
When he stood again, his father was walking toward the rover. Simon had never seen anybody move that fast in a lifesuit. And Lilly had vanished. Where did she go? Then the airlock began to cycle, and Simon put down his game and sat again, staring at the little door at the back end of the cabin.
Even after a thorough cleaning, the woman's suit smelled of peroxides and ancient dust. She stepped into the cabin smiling, helmet tucked under one arm. The woman was pretty. She was darker than most of the people that he'd seen before. In the cabin air, her voice sounded warm and kind and special, and the first words she said to him were, "You look a fine smart young man."
He liked this woman.
"Simon is a wonderful name," she said.
He nodded and smiled back at her.
"Your father's told me quite a lot about you," she offered. Then her face changed, and she said, "He's being very unreasonable, you know."
Once again, the airlock started through its cycle.
"Simon," she began. "Has anyone told you about the Zoo project?"
The boy nodded before he considered the question. But luckily, yes, he knew about the bug people. "My mom explained them to me."
Lilly said nothing.
"They're good-hearted soft souls," he continued.
Slowly, she said, "I guess we are," and then she added, "I'd like to believe we're doing something good. Saving what Martians we can save before their world is gone forever."
"Mars isn't leaving," he said.
"But their habitats will vanish. Some soon, and then the rest."
"But we're Martians too," he said, repeating what he heard from every other adult.
"Except the native microbes were first," she mentioned.
Simon shrugged, unsure how that mattered.
"They're under us right now," she began.
The airlock was pressurized, jets and determined vacuums struggling to clean his father's mostly clean suit.
"Beneath us is a wonderland, Simon. A paradise." Lilly's voice was quick and serious. "Heat and flowing water and nutrients, plus fractures in the bedrock that are prime growing surfaces for thousands of native species. Pseudoarchaea and nanobacteria, viral cysts and maybe the largest population of hunter-molds anywhere. What I'm sampling is the Martian equivalent of a tropical rainforest. It's a fabulous treasure, unique in the universe, and do you know what's going to happen to it?"
Some of her words made no sense. But one new word piqued his curiosity, which was why Simon asked, "What's a rain-forest?"
Lilly hesitated. "What do you think it is?"
"Water falling on trees," he offered.
"It rains a lot, yes."
"That sounds awful," he offered.
Now the airlock stopped cleaning its contents, and the inner door popped open. Father entered the room quickly, his gloves unfastening his helmet, eyes big and his mouth clamped into a hard long line.
"We're talking about rain-forests," Simon reported. Then to his new friend, he asked, "How can trees grow under falling water?"
"It isn't like that," she sputtered. Then she turned. "Hey, John. Hear back from the attorneys?"
"Not yet." Father stopped and with a slow voice asked his son, "What else have you talked about?"
"Nothing," Lilly said.
"The Zoo," corrected Simon.
"Yeah, the Zoo," she allowed. "I was just asking this fine young man what he knew about my work, and he reports that his mother says I'm soft but that I have a good heart."
Was that what he told her? Simon didn't think so.
Father looked at their faces, one and then the other.
"That's all," Lilly said cheerfully.
Father's suit was bright and clean. He looked hot, which made little sense. He even seemed tired, although they hadn't done anything today.
Finally, with a quiet little voice, he said, "Don't."
Simon couldn't tell which one of them he was talking to.
Or was he saying, "Don't," to himself?
But with a tight, almost angry voice, Lilly asked, "Why would I? Why would I even think that? I have this sterling good heart that doesn't wish ill on anybody, bacterial or otherwise."
Simon still liked Lilly, but adults could be very peculiar. Was Lilly one of those peculiar adults?
Neither adult wanted to talk, and they wouldn't look at each other. The floor seemed to be the most interesting area in the room, and they stared at it for a time, their mouths small and their eyes empty and both of them breathing quickly.
To break the silence, Simon announced, "I got to hold one of the seeds today. Dad let me do that."
Even then, nobody spoke.
"Seeds are machines," the boy reported. "They explode like bombs, and they're very powerful, and inside them? They've got these little sacks, and the sacks get flung out into the hole made by the bomb, and they're full of good young bugs that can do all sorts of neat, important things. Like growing fast and building these little, little roots that carry power like wires do, and the roots make it possible to heat up the crust fast and change the rocks to make our kinds of life happy."
Without warning, Lilly said one awful word.
Father set his hand on her suit, on the back of her shoulder.
"Don't touch me, John."
Then Father said, "Leave us alone, Lilly."
Four words, and none were loud. But Simon had never heard the man angrier than he sounded then.
"Suit up and go," he told the woman.
But Lilly just shook her head. Then putting on a big peculiar smile, she said, "Simon? Want to hear something funny about your father and me?"
The boy wanted any reason to laugh. "Sure."
"No," said Father, stepping between them. "Suit up and go do your work, Lilly. I'll tell my bosses something's wrong at my end, that I'm not ready to plant. Do what you need. Is that fair enough for you?"
She said, "No."
Lilly kept watching Simon, the wild smile building on her pretty dark face. "I want you to help me, John. With the drilling, with the sampling. All of it."
Father didn't speak.
Then Lilly said, "Hey, Simon. You want your father to have a good heart, don't you?"
"Yes," he said.
"So what should he do? Help me or hurt me?"
"Help her, Dad," the boy begged. "You've got to, Dad. What else can you do?"
* * *
A little bird warned Simon about the impending rebellion.
Jackie was part African gray, with a good deal of genetic retooling and enough bio-linked circuitry to lift the parrot's IQ to vote-worthy levels. Her job functions included companionship and extra eyes with which to keep watch over the sprawling farm, and she was excellent at both duties. But every living thing possesses its unsuspected skills. Wasn't that what Simon's professors warned when they addressed each new class of would-be atums? No matter how simple the genetics, an organism's mind or the culture in which it was immersed, every created entity contained its fair share of surprises, flaws as well as those few talents that would, if they were too spectacular, screw up anyone's blooming career.
"Warning signs are marching," Jackie reported. "Small warnings, I'll grant you. But I can't shake the premonition of disasters on the loose."
"Is it our sun?" Simon asked. Which wasn't an unreasonable question, what with their reactor running past the prescribed one hundred and five percent rating. "You think the light's about to fail?"
In twenty years, there had been two prolonged blackouts. Neither was Simon's fault, though both were major disasters for the farm--two incidents that left cancerous reprimands tucked inside his life-file.
But the parrot clucked at his concerns, saying, "No, it's not our sun."
"Meat troubles?" Viruses, he feared. A herpes strain hitching rides on the nervous systems of new immigrants, most likely.
"No, the ribs-and-hearts are growing well. And the bacon is ahead of schedule."
Nonetheless, Simon studied the terrain before them: The ancient crater was capped with a diamond dome, and fixed to the dome's apex was a blazing fire that winked out for only a few minutes each day. Otherwise the basin was flooded with a simple but brilliant light. Limiting the radiant frequencies allowed for the efficient consumption of energy. The black-green foliage stank of life, healthy and always growing. Tallest were the pond-pods--sprawling low-gravity trees endowed with countless trunks holding up bowl-shaped basins filled with clean water, each pond infested with shrimp and fish, each covered with thin living skins so that the jostling of wind and animals never spilling what lay inside. As a young man, Simon helped design the first pond-pods, and since his arrival on Hektor, he had overseen countless improvements that allowed them to thrive in the carbonaceous soil. No accomplishment made him prouder. By contrast, the rib-and-hearts and bacons were routine commercial species, ugly by any aesthetics he cared to invoke. There were long days when the master of this farm wished he could cull and enhance according to his own tastes, creating something more satisfying than an efficient but bland food factory.